We spoke with Karl Poyzer and Joe Roberts last year for their wonderfully funny sci-fi animation Floaters. It was a comedy about two spaceships confronting each other over technical minutia and we loved how Poyzer and Roberts managed to smoothly marry epic sci-fi with a dry sense of British humour. The film itself ended up attracting a lot of buzz and attention on the internet which has now resulted in a sequel starring Zach Braff and Joel Fry entitled Floaters: The Big Number Two. Plot-wise, we once again find ourselves in the realm of space. This time tracking two escapees who have made their way out of a high security prison but with little idea of just where their daring getaway will land them. DN is delighted to premiere this second Floaters instalment on our pages today and caught up with the co-directors to ask them about the technical and narrative challenges a sequel brings, alongside the perks of working with actors the calibre of Fry and Braff.
At what point did you decide to follow-up Floaters and what spurred the idea for this sequel?
Karl Poyzer: So the script for this was one of Joe’s early ideas from around the time we started the first one. It sort of terrified me because it was an escape pod floating through an empty void. With the first episode being so bright and busy I knew we’d need to do something different with this one if we wanted it to have the same tone. I had become really interested in the idea of perspectives during episode one and the CCTV idea had been floating around my head for ages so I thought this might be the right time to implement it.
We knew we wanted to bookend the film with more traditional 3D animation so it was really fun to have a go at making something big and in space.
As we were finishing the first episode, I had started working on the surveillance room without telling Joe. I knew it was going to be a bit of a mammoth task to make it look lived-in and I didn’t want to pitch the idea without having something solid to look at. After a few weeks of building it in 3D inside Blender, I slowly started drip feeding the idea until I had made it abundantly clear that this was a bone I wasn’t going to let go of.
Joe, what were your concerns with tackling this new idea from both a writer and director perspective?
Joe Roberts: With this script that the brilliant Rowan Bancroft and less brilliant me wrote, I was partially wearing my director’s hat and was worried about having only one place that two voices come from. Not having the traditional shot/reverse shot idea that we had for the first Floaters. When Karl pitched this third person idea, it solved that problem I was wrestling with so went for it full beam, knowing it would essentially be having to direct the piece twice.
What elements from the first episode did you want to maintain in the sequel?
KP: The thing from episode one that we wanted to keep was the hand-drawn feeling of some of the backgrounds. Once we agreed that we wouldn’t move the camera much we began to choose our angles, render them and send them into Procreate so I could start painting over them on my iPad. I always liked the weird painted “gross-ups” in cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and Spongebob and thought it would be nice to add a little more texture into our shots in a similar way. These 4k Matte paintings became the foundation of the film.
I have to ask about Joel Fry and Zach Braff’s involvement? What was it like to work with actors of their calibre?
JR: From a casting point of view, we still needed two people with distinctly different voices and Zach Braff had contacted Karl via Instagram with a very kind offer of his voice so it made sense to go back to Zach with this script. It was then finding the second voice. I’ve loved Joel Fry’s delivery and tone and thought he’d be a perfect foil for the bombastic co-escapee. It was a moon shot, we approached his agent with the script and the first one and he was really up for it. So it really was an aligning of the stars.
How did you find the process of working directly with Zach and Joel? What did they bring to the table?
It was just a privilege to watch/listen to two absolute pros at work. They nailed the script very quickly and quickly found their own beats and moments in that script that they could play with. With Zach what was interesting was that to us, Floaters has always felt very ‘British’. The indirectness of the script, the passive aggression turned up to 11, the wry, dry sense of humour always felt quite unique to the UK. So to hear an American’s take on our humour and make it more universal but still relatable was just a joy really. Also, to hear an American say “poo” was funny to us. That’s like hearing someone from the US say “wanker” or “bollocks”. It feels weird but fun. Zach was like “I have a British girlfriend so I hear the word ‘poo’ a lot”.
What challenges did this new concept throw your way?
KP: What I hadn’t considered when I had this bright spark idea was that it would require a lot of screen replacement. Go figure. Some of these shots required upwards of fifteen screens to be composited. I had assumed at the start that we would just have the same thing playing on every screen but Joe rightly pushed for us to make each screen its own world. This meant animating the pod, prison hallways, schematics of the prison, schematics of the pod and more, and then design user interfaces to go over the top. We realised about halfway through that this was a stupid idea.
Designing the prison itself was also really fun. We knew we wanted to bookend the film with more traditional 3D animation so it was really fun to have a go at making something big and in space. The inspiration for the intro was always very Alien for me. The way we are introduced to the Nostromo in that film really burnt its way into my soul, so taking a punt at this was really exciting.
Who did you work with on the score and sound design this time around? What conversations did you have with them about developing those components of the story?
A huge shoutout to Guido Maat on his incredible score and Jochen Mader for the sound design. We spent a long time discussing the minute details of Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien score with Guido. For the score we wanted to make something that would pay homage to Alien while creating something that fit this universe. And the specific modulation of the beeps and boops of the Nostromo with Jochen. Jochen actually used an ARP2600 for a lot of these beeps, the same machine used for R2D2’s sound design. Amazing stuff.
We knew sound would be so important to the storytelling and the world building.
Having two passionate sci-fi fans steer the audio side of this piece was fantastic and really exciting. We knew sound would be so important to the storytelling and the world building. The attention to detail makes the piece so much better than it has any right to be. Hearing Guido and Jochen’s incredible work was perhaps my favourite part of the process. Even if we undercut it completely with poo jokes.
How are you both feeling about the series now that you’ve finished the second episode?
Although this is a very silly series with very silly jokes, we hope that our love and respect for the sci-fi genre also shines through. It is an absolute dream to be able kitbash the world of dry British humour and serious sci-fi together and being able to do it with people so talented is the real cherry on the urinal cake.
Will there be an episode three and what else are you both working on?
We have episode three of Floaters already done and dusted, episode four has been recorded and is in the early stages of the radio play edit and R&D for Karl. There are scripts for another six episodes from the Floaters universe that Rowan and I have written. It’s such a fun thing to write and make that we couldn’t stop. We’re really excited by them.
We’re also trying to get back to doing more live action stuff. We’ve directed and shot a couple of pilots for the BBC this year, as well as our day jobs making funny commercial work as a director and DOP respectively. We have three short films we’d like to shoot next year that meld the sci-fi feel and tone of Floaters with live action performance woven in.